Illex argentinus, the Argentine short-finned squid, is an important species within the Patagonian shelf ecosystem, where it supports a major multi-national fishery. The fishing fleet operating in this region is comprised of jigging vessels which attract squid using powerful incandescent lights. These fishing lights are detectable in remotely sensed satellite imagery which makes the fishery unusually amenable to a large-scale analysis of its spatial dynamics. In this paper, long-term inter-annual variability in fleet distribution and extent is examined using imagery from the Defence Meteorological Satellite Program-Operational Linescan System (DMSP-OLS) for the period 1993-2005. The fishery was found to occupy a wide area across the shelf and slope, with regions of consistent fishing activity observed on the high seas (45-47°S) and to the north of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Distribution of the fishery over the 13-year study period was variable, with 28% of the fished area occupied in 1-2 years, and 7% of the area occupied in 12-13 years. Annual catch levels were positively associated with the extent of the area occupied by the fleet. Higher catches corresponded to the fishery occupying a wide latitudinal range, whereas lower catches were observed during 2004 and 2005 corresponding to a contraction of the fishery away from the south of its range. In years of very high catches, fishing took place along almost the entire latitudinal range of the species. Due to the intensity of fishing, changes in the distribution of the fleet can reflect shifts in the distribution of I. argentinus; this has potential for the long-term monitoring of this highly variable squid fishery. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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